In this cartridge comparison, we are going to look at two cartridges that many people probably have never thought about comparing; The 7.62×39 vs the .308.
This is an interesting comparison for several reasons.
The 7.62×39 round is most known for its use in the AK 47, but it is becoming more commonplace in the hunting world with carbines and in situations where more hunters are searching for a cartridge to match specific shooting niches that the .308 already fills.
While the .308 has been an American and worldwide hunting round for over fifty years, are there situations where the 7.62×39 might be a better option? We will take a look at this idea in this cartridge comparison article over the 7.62×39 vs .308.
Yes, we know that most might wonder why not compare the 7.62×51 NATO round instead of the .308 (the civilian version of the 7.62×51). The reason is because of what we mentioned earlier in that the 7.62×39 is beginning to be used more often in the hunting world, so we wanted to compare it with a hunting standard such as the .308.
We are not looking to name one of these cartridges as the best of the two. This is simply a comparison of two cartridges that many shooters might have to choose between when looking for a new firearm. We will take a brief look at the history of the two and then move on to a discussion of some of their ballistic properties. By doing this, we hope to have a better understanding of which situations each cartridge will be better suited for.
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A Brief History
We will shortly get to the actual numbers and comparisons of these cartridges, but we think that understanding where these cartridges originated and how they found themselves in our shooting culture and vernacular is also important and gives you a better understanding of what their original use was intended for. In this section, we will also compare the basic specifications of the cartridges.
The .308 Winchester jumped into the shooting world in 1952 in the United States by the Winchester Repeating Company. The .308 is the civilian version of the 7.62×51 NATO round that was used in Vietnam by American soldiers carrying the M14 Garand. Its stint in the military did not last long in this capacity, but American manufacturers saw the potential of the cartridge for civilian use, specifically in the police and hunting world. The .308 Win and it’s NATO round are still used in some capacity today in the military, but it is not as widespread as it was during the Vietnam war.
Where the .308 has thrived and gained a loyal following is in the hunting community. The heavy bullet and high energy make it great for use in whitetail country with thick cover. It’s a great medium to large game rifle and can be used for just about any large game animal in the world under the correct situations.
The .308 is extremely popular, and there is an abundance of ammunition available. There are several bullet weights and bullet designs that have increased the versatility of the .308.
The 7.62×39 is one of the most used cartridges in the world. Its initial design was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1940’s. It has undergone numerous design adjustments from then to the modern cartridge we have today.
This cartridge is often highly regarded in close quarters combat as well as in gun shooting competitions. It has recently seen a small increase in popularity in the hunting world as well.
The 7.62×39 is available with several different bullets and cartridge designs such as a full metal jacket as well as soft point bullets more suitable for hunting purposes. The bullet weight for most 7.62×39 ammunition hangs around the 122-125 grain with some variants in the 150grain range.
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||45,010psi||62,000psi|
Before we dive into various ballistic and other performance categories, we always like to take a brief look at the similarities and differences between the case and bullet dimensions. It gives us an idea of how they might match up to each other, and it also gives us something to fall back on when we do see differences in the ballistics and helps us understand why they show those differences.
You can see right off the bat that the .308 is a much larger cartridge than the 7.62×39 round. The neck diameter is similar which we would expect given the diameter of the bullets used are 0.004″ within each other. The .308 Win has a much wider case base as well as half an inch more on the length and the overall length with how the bullet is set. This allows the .308 to hold a much greater powder charge as well as withstand a greater amount of pressure once ignited. Interestingly, the specs of the 7.62×39 are similar to the 30-30 round that is used quite often in hunting. We are going to see in the ballistics section that these cartridge specs line up with well with the different ballistic properties between these two cartridges.
Now that you have some of the basic information of these two loads, we are going to dive into some key points of discussion about the similarities and differences between the two and get down to the details of the 7.62×39 vs .308.
In our comparisons, we will look at five of the more popular cartridges of both the 7.62×39 and .308 cartridges. We have selected these rounds based not only on popularity but also in a way to cover a broad range of the type of rounds that are available. We have light to heavy grained .308 rounds as well as soft point and FMJ rounds of the 7.62×39 as well as a nice range of bullet grains. And yes, this is still a small sample size given the number of options that are out there. This list was not compiled as a list of the greatest rounds available. We had to have a cutoff somewhere for the sake of clarity with the graphs.
Here are the ten rounds we will use for our ballistics and other shot characteristics for this article.
- .308 Winchester Super-X 180gr
- .308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr
- .308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr
- .308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr
- .308 Federal Gold Medal 175gr
- 7.62×39 Federal Fusion Soft Point 123gr
- 7.62×39 Hornady SST Steel Case 123gr
- 7.62×39 TulAmmo FMJ 122gr
- 7.62×39 Remington UMC Metal Case 123gr
- 7.62×39 Winchester Super-X 123gr
It’s also important to note that these are all factory rounds and they are not going to have the performance of hot hand loaded rounds that you might come across on other sites or forums. We chose to stick only to factory loads because the majority of people do not hand load cartridges and that information would not be useful to a lot of people. While hand loading and ballistic performance for certain cartridges is fascinating, it is beyond the scope of this cartridge comparison.
The majority of the data is available from the manufacture, and where that was not available, we relied on ballistic calculators from trusted sources. Where ballistic calculators are used we kept as many variables the same between rounds of the same cartridge. Where calculations are made, we will be sure to make clear our variables at that time.
When it comes to this type of data, there is no concern with comparing cartridges, but you should be aware that these numbers can change when being fired from your own rifle and they can be different when compared to two different rifles. Each rifle tends to have its own small differences in its profile, and this means some small differences to the ballistic output. As far as comparing the two cartridges go, computer-generated data has its advantages in that these small differences are negated, and the influence of environmental factors are removed.
We also understand that what we will be looking at is a relatively small sample size compared to the amount of options that are out there. Because of that, we have actually compiled the data for a lot more rounds than the ones we will be graphing and analyzing in this article. While graphing all of these rounds would be an absolute mess, we have calculated the averages for our full sample size with all of the performance categories we will look at. We will present this data in tables at the end of each section. By doing this, we hope it instills a bit more confidence in the data we will look at more in depth and that it is an accurate representation of how these two cartridges compare to each other. All of the rounds used to generate the data are listed at the end of the article.
A lot of shooters want to know the difference in recoil between two rounds. Not from fear of the recoil, but because of how it can affect follow-up shots. When popping off several rounds in quick succession, low recoil helps keep the firearm centered on target whereas a heavy recoil takes longer to get centered. While there is a difference in recoil energy between the two cartridges, even the hardest kicking one is nothing an adult hunter or shooter can’t handle with little effort.
What we are comparing in this 7.62×38 vs .308 section is the actual recoil energy that is generated by firing the cartridge. This is not felt energy, though higher energy is going to lead to more felt energy. The actual felt recoil depends on a lot more than just the cartridge being used. Your stance and shooting form, as well as the rifle, will all play a role in “felt recoil.” For the sake of comparison, we are only going to focus on pure recoil energy between the two.
If we look at the recoil between these two rounds, we will find that the .308 cartridge produces a lot more energy than the 7.62×39. In the first graph, we see a comparison of the .308 and 7.62×39 averages for recoil energy (ft.lb) that was provided by the ballistics calculator (Graph 1).
As you can see, the .308 has over two-fold greater recoil energy than the 7.62×39 cartridge. If you look back at the specs section, you can see why. The .308 has the capacity for a lot more powder and, for the most part, launches a larger bullet. Of course, your decision should not be based solely on this as other performance criteria should be taken into account, but if this trend holds up with our selected rounds than you can be sure that there are going to be a lot of differences between these two cartridges for a lot of categories.
Let’s take a look at our ten rounds and see if the trend holds. We generated this data using a ballistic calculator with the variables of the muzzle velocity, bullet weight, gun weight (7lbs constant), and the powder charge. We determined the powder charge by taking the average for several common loads from Nosler load data. We kept the same powder charge for each round of their respective cartridge type (Graph 2).
So, because of that, these numbers are not going to be dead-on accurate on a round to round basis. They should be pretty dang close and it is not going to affect the trends that we see between the two cartridge types.
As you can tell from looking at the bar graph, the greater recoil of the .308 holds true for all of our chosen rounds and should for just about any comparison of recoil between the two cartridges. All of the .308 Win rounds are generating greater than 20lb.ft of recoil energy while all of the 7.62×39 rounds are in the 8ft.lb range. This is a huge distinction between the two cartridges. With more than double the recoil energy for the .308, it is going to be a huge difference in firing both of these rounds.
Just to show you that these results are not due to our selection of rounds, let’s take a look at the averages for our full selection of rounds in the table below. These numbers were calculated using the same variables that we mentioned above.
Average Recoil (ft/lb)
So we see that the trend seems to follow along the same lines as we saw with the smaller sample size and the gap has actually increased slightly with more rounds added to the sample. The .308 Winchester, on average, produces nearly 3x as much recoil energy than the 7.62x39mm rounds. And again, this is just an average and not every .308 Win round you pick up is going to produce such a wide gap in recoil. And as we will mention several times, you are going to need to take all of the performance factors into account. While you might not want so much recoil, you might want the other performance specs that come with the round.
In the ballistics section, we will look at several ballistic categories of both of these cartridges so that we can get a better understanding of what shooting scenarios we might go with one cartridge over the other. We will look at velocity, ballistic coefficients, short range trajectory, and long-range trajectory of these rounds and discuss what these numbers mean and how they will carry over into various shooting applications.
We are taking each of these different categories and singling them out from the rest. While comparing these two cartridges with this method makes it easier to draw conclusions we want to make clear that all of these categories play off of one another. Changes in one is going to cause changes in all of the other ballistic properties. Just keep in mind as we go through that to get a full picture of these two cartridges and to make an educated decision on which cartridge better suits you, you have to take all this information together.
The muzzle velocity and velocity over a given range of distance is an important ballistic characteristic. The speed of the bullet leaving the gun is going to be important in how the flat the bullet shoots. What we mean is that the bullet does not drop dramatically when shot. All bullets are going to decrease in elevation over increased distances, but a high velocity keeps them flying straighter and means fewer adjustments needed to make long shots. Velocity is also an important factor in a bullets ability to penetrate the target.
Again, it’s not the only factor that influences other important flight characteristics and terminal performance, but it definitely plays a large role. We think it’s also important to note that higher velocity is not always the best trait. The velocity needs to pair with your rifle twist rate. While most factory loads, which is the topic of this article, are produced with this in mind, it’s more of a concern when handloading. Too hot a round with the incorrect twist rate is going to lead to an unstable flight. Again, it’s not really a concern for this discussion, but we don’t want to be misleading that higher velocity is best in every scenario.
So, let’s take a look at the muzzle velocity and the velocity over a range of 500 yards for the ten rounds we have been comparing so far in the article. We compiled this data from the manufacturer (Graph 3).
We can see that the .308 is a faster flying cartridge than the 7.62×39 round. Even though the 7.62×39 is a lighter bullet, there is just more room for a higher powder charge in the .308 cartridges which gives it much more energy leaving the muzzle.
From the graph, you can see that there is a clear trend when it comes to rounds for each cartridge grouping together. The .308 rounds, all five, have an average velocity of 2,708ft.sec while the 7.62×39 rounds have an average of 2,352ft.sec. This difference in averages increases slightly as the rounds move downrange. By the 500 yard mark, the .308 rounds have an average of 1,796ft.sec while the 7.62×39 rounds have an average of 1,123ft.sec.
All of the .308 Win rounds maintain velocities well above supersonic speeds out to the 500-yard mark. As for the 7.62×39 rounds, several drop below supersonic speeds at the 400 and 500-yard mark.
Now, let’s take a look at the averages in velocity between these two cartridges from the muzzle to 500 yards when we incorporate more rounds. We will also look at the supersonic limit averages for these two cartridges. We are interested in when the bullet drops below supersonic speeds because at that point, the path and destination of the bullet is a lot less predictable.
Average Velocity (ft/s)
When we look at the numbers, we still see the same differences that we observed in the graphed rounds. At the muzzle, the .308 Winchester rounds are showing close to 400 more fps than the 7.62×39 rounds. We also see that the .308 Win maintains and even expands its increase in velocity over the 7.62×39 as it moves downrange to the 500 yard marker. Although the .308 Win rounds often have heavier bullets, they also are able to hold a significant amount more of powder which leads to the increased velocities compared to the 7.62×39 rounds. And while there is a clear difference between the two velocities of these rounds, this result is not an indicator that the .308 Win is a superior round. First, it’s all relative to what you are using the round for and second, there are a lot more qualities to a cartridge that are important in your decision.
Average Supersonic Limit (Yards)
We did not look at yard distance where the individual bullets fall below supersonic limits with the smaller data set, but we wanted to include it when looking at the larger group of available rounds. Some marksmen look at the supersonic limit when they are involved in long range shooting. And by long range, we are talking 1,000+ yard shots. The reason this distance is important is because when rounds that leave the barrel at supersonic speeds fall below this threshold, they are often less stable than they were above that threshold. This loss in stability can make calculating the bullet’s behavior more challenging.
For supersonic limits, the .308 Win rounds remain supersonic for about 500 more yards, on average. We saw the 7.62x39mm rounds bleed velocity a lot faster when we compared the velocities and we will also see a difference in the ballistic coefficients between these two cartridges which also makes this difference make sense. If you are considering these two cartridges with long range shooting in mind, it is a result you should make note of and something we will discuss in the application section of the article.
With these observations of the velocity and supersonic range of these two cartridges, let’s take a look at how the ballistic coefficients compare.
A ballistic coefficient is a number that you will run across when doing any research on cartridges. It is usually brought under more scrutiny by long range shooters, but it should be on the minds of hunters as well. The BC is derived from an equation that takes into account a lot of variables from cartridge and bullet specs and gives you an idea of how streamlined the bullet is. The higher the BC, the less susceptible the bullet is to drag and wind drift. For taking shots at game in less than ideal weather conditions at 100+ yards, the BC is an important factor. Theoretically, a higher ballistic coefficient is going to mean a bullet where fewer adjustments are needed for proper shot placement. If you expand on that, a bullet with a high BC should be more accurate excluding all other factors.
So, let’s take a look at our ten rounds and see how these two cartridges stack up. We obtained these BCs from the manufacturer (Graph 4).
Like everything we have looked at so far, there is again a distinct difference between the two cartridges. The .308 rounds all have BCs close to or greater than .4 with a .45 round and a .5 round. Looking at the 7.62×39, we see much smaller ballistic coefficients. None of the selected rounds break the .3 mark. Given what we know about the BC and what it influences it makes the greater loss of velocity in the 7.62×39 rounds compared to the .308 make sense.
Before we move on to the trajectories of these two cartridges, let’s see if the difference in ballistic coefficients change when we look at a larger sample size.
Average Ballistic Coefficient
Like the smaller sample size, we see a pretty substantial difference in the ballistic coefficients of these two cartridges. Like earlier, we observe a higher BC for the .308 Winchester when compared to the 7.62x39mm average.
There is some variance in the BC for the .308 Winchester but you will find a lot more options for higher BC’s for the .308 rather than more rounds closer to the 7.62×39 average. We also noticed that with the 7.62×39 rounds that we compiled and that had the BC listed, all fell in the 0.24 to 0.299 range.
With these averages, we see a pretty large difference, as far as ballistic coefficients go, between these two cartridge types. With this much of a difference, the applications of these two cartridges are definitely going to differ and is something we will look at in the application section.
Let’s see if we also see these drastic differences in the trajectory of the 7.62×39 vs .308.
The trajectory is probably one of the most discussed ballistic property when it comes to comparing two cartridges. Not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but bullets do not continue on a straight flight path. Instead, the flight path takes on the shape of a parabola and depending on the cartridge, and individual round, the steepness of the drop can vary. Hunters and competitive shooters alike want to see a flatter trajectory in their rounds. What we mean by flat is that there is less bullet drop. Less bullet drop as the bullet moves downrange means less drastic adjustments have to be made. Fewer adjustments mean less chance for mistakes and a better chance and putting the shot on target.
We will look at both the short and long-range trajectories of the 7.62×39 vs .308, but before we do, we want to step back and take a clear look at how these cartridges compare in trajectory. To do this, we have taken two rounds, one from each cartridge, and look at the trajectory out to 500 yards. With other cartridge comparisons, we have done we really try to match up the two rounds as closely as possible with similar bullet weights, BCs, and bullet styles. Often they are made from the same manufacture. In this case, that is difficult to do (Graph 5).
We see that out to around 200 yards we do not see much difference in the trajectories of these rounds. We do see maybe a couple of inches from 150-200 yards but nothing significant. From the 200 mark to 500 yards, the gap widens significantly. By the 500 yard mark, we are looking at the .308 round showing 50 inches less bullet drop than the 7.62×39 round. Even if you have no experience shooting, you realize dealing with 50-inch bullet drop is much more manageable than dealing with 100 inches.
Let’s bring in all of our rounds for comparison and see if this trend holds up.
Short Range Trajectory
You have probably already come to the conclusion that the short range trajectory is probably going to be the most important when it comes to these two rounds, given what we have seen with the 7.62×39.
The 7.62×39 has become more popular in the hunting world and especially when it comes to medium size game at distances within 300 yards.
We have compiled the trajectories for these rounds through the manufacturer or by ballistic calculators where we used the rounds bullet weight, muzzle velocity, and ballistic coefficient with a zero variable at 100 yards (Graph 6).
There is clearly a difference between cartridges. The .308 rounds group tightly together, as do the 7.62×39 rounds, and the .308 rounds show a flatter trajectory at the 200 and 300-yard mark. Neither cartridges are unwieldy at either range, but the .308 shows flatter trajectory with an average bullet drop of 4 inches at 200 yards and 14.68 inches at 300 yards. The 7.62×39 has an average drop in trajectory of 6.88 at 200 yards and 24.24 inches at 300 yards.
Within 100 yards, both of these cartridges are going to be easy to put on target.
Of course, when only looking at ten rounds, there is always the chance that these results are not representative of the cartridges. So, let’s bring in some more rounds and see if the flatter trajectory of the .308 Winchester rounds continues.
Average Bullet Drop (Inches) at Short Range
When we look at more rounds, we still see that the .308 Win rounds have quite a bit less bullet drop than the 7.62×39 rounds, especially when the rounds move out to the 300 and 400 yard range. And a lot of hunters will tell you that even two inches less bullet drop can be really useful in the field, which is the difference we see in the averages at 200 yards. When you move out to the 300 and 400 yard range we really start to see the 7.62×39 average drop with 10.7 and 25.7 inches more bullet drop respectively.
Though you can probably guess what these cartridges are going to look like at longer ranges, let’s go ahead and look at the long range trajectory.
Long Range Trajectory
If you’re on the range or out hunting, you might need to have a good understanding of how the cartridge you are using performs when taking shots at 300+ yards. We’ll go ahead and say that you’re not going to be using the 7.62×39 for this type of shooting but you might for the .308. So for the sake of being thorough, let’s compare our ten rounds. Like the short-range graph, we are measuring bullet drop in inches over a range of 500 yards zeroed in at 200 yards. The data was compiled in the same manner as the short range trajectory (Graph 7).
The data is pretty clear in this case. The .308 outperforms the 7.62×39 at long range shots, and it does so easily. Trying to be accurate with the 7.62×39 at these ranges is nearly impossible. Maybe at 300 yards, it is manageable if you’re good. At 400 yards the 7.62×39 has an average bullet drop of 50 inches, but with the poor velocities and poor BCs, it’s going to be a difficult shot. Even on level ground with no wind, trying to compensate for 100” of drop is going to be near impossible for all but the foremost experts at long range shooting. This will play a role in the applications of the 7.62×39.
Before we jump topics and move on to stopping power, let’s take a quick look at the long range averages of these two cartridges when we add in some extra rounds.
Average Bullet Drop (Inches) at Long Range
Again, we see that our graphed rounds are a pretty good representation of how these two cartridges compare when looking at the long range trajectory. The 7.62×39 rounds have near or more than twice the bullet drop as the .308 Winchester rounds from 300 yards to 1,000 yards. Again, we are seeing a trend for the 7.62×39 round not having the numbers one would look for in a cartridge wanting to be used out past 300 yards. And that does not mean the 7.62×39 is an inferior round, it just means that these cartridges probably are not going to overlap much in shooting applications.
For comparing these two cartridges, and given the ballistics, we have seen for the 7.62×39, it’s obvious that any argument between these two cartridges is going to be related to hunting performance. One of the biggest performance characteristics for hunting cartridges is the stopping power. You can have a flat trajectory and high BCs but if the cartridge doesn’t have the power to drop an animal cleanly then what’s the point? From personal experience, it’s not fun tracking an animal in the middle of the night.
There are a lot of factors that go into stopping power. In this article, we are going to focus on the bullet’s kinetic energy and the sectional density which is correlated to penetration of the bullet. We will also take a look at bullet momentum data for these two cartridges. We are focusing on these three factors because they allow us to compare cartridges as a whole rather than just individual rounds.
We will also not bring up the argument as to which of these components to stopping power is the best representative of a rounds ability to harvest game. The argument is out there and it is raging, but we think taking all of them into account is important and all three of these categories do play a role in the terminal performance of the bullet along with other factors we will not discuss here.
Regarding hunting, stopping power is a critical component to picking out a proper cartridge. You want the bullet to have enough energy when it reaches the target to be able to drop the animal quickly and cleanly. Generally, you want to see an energy of over 1,000ft.lb to be confident of a clean kill. As the game increases in size, you are going to want to see an increase in the bullet’s energy. It is just a guideline though and shot placement is just as important as far as we are concerned.
So, let’s take a look at the bullet energies of the ten rounds. The data was compiled from the manufacturer’s website (Graph 8).
There are several conclusions we can draw from this graph. The most obvious is that the 7.62×39 just does not possess the same bullet energy as the .308 and this is true from the muzzle to 500 yards. In fact, it is not even close. Even the one of the lightest grain .308 bullets available possesses more energy than all of the 7.62×39 rounds. Just to give you some numbers, the average bullet energy for the .308 rounds at the muzzle is 2,727ft.lb, 1,691ft.lb at 300 yards, and 1,186ft.lb at 500 yards. The average bullet energy for the 7.62×39 rounds is 1,525ft.lb leaving the muzzle, 630ft.lb at 300 yards, and 353ft.lb at 500 yards.
You will also notice that after 200 yards, the 7.62×39 rounds are beginning to fall well below 1,000 ft.lb which makes it a poor choice for use in hunting large game and even medium sized game at 300 yards. On the other hand, the .308 rounds all have over 1,000ft.lb of energy all the way out to the 500-yard mark.
Again, while we are only looking at several rounds for each cartridge, this trend is going to be the same for just about any 7.62×39 and .308 round that is available as we see in the table below which we generated using a larger sample size of available factory loads.
Average Bullet Kinetic Energy (ft.lbs)
Just as we saw in the above graph, the .308 Win rounds, overall, seems to generate a lot more kinetic energy than the 7.62x39mm rounds with close to or over a 1,000ft.lbs difference between the two cartridges from the muzzle out to 500 yards. While we discussed some of the ramifications of these numbers above, we will discuss it further in the applications section.
Penetration (Sectional Density)
Bullet penetration is another factor that influences a bullet’s stopping power. We will use the sectional densities of the various rounds we have selected to measure the potential penetration. The sectional density is derived from a calculation involving the bullets weight and diameter. The higher the sectional density, the better the penetration. Of course, other factors play a role in penetration such as the type and design of the bullet, but this comparison we will stick to the SD.
So, let’s take a look at the sectional densities of the ten rounds we have been comparing and see if we can draw any conclusions about the cartridge’s penetration potentials (Graph 9).
From the sectional densities, the .308 would have a slightly better chance of deep penetration of the target. The heavier grain 7.62×39 round does have a slightly higher SD than the other rounds of the same cartridge. When we think about the velocities, it further provides evidence that the .308 will have better penetration. And again, this is not taking into account bullet design, but from a standpoint of SD and velocity, the .308 rounds should drive deeper than the 7.62x39mm rounds. Depending on what applications you have in mind, that might or might not be a positive for either cartridge.
Below, we have added in our full listing of factory loads for each cartridge and calculated the average sectional density.
Average Sectional Density
From these numbers, we do see a bit wider increase in the difference between these two cartridges in regards to the sectional density. If you were to pick a cartridge based solely on the sectional density and the potential for the cartridge to penetrate deeper, the .308 Winchester would most likely be your choice.
The basic fundamentals of momentum are how well an object in motion will stay in motion. When talking about a bullet and terminal ballistics or being able to penetrate obstacles, momentum gives us an indication of how much resistance a bullet can overcome. And like all of the sub-categories under stopping power, the design of the bullet is going to play a large role, but for the purpose of this article, we will omit but we employ you to take bullet design into account when selecting your specific round as it is a critical component as to how your bullet will perform terminally.
And like we have mentioned for the previous sections, momentum alone is not a decisive indicator for stopping power. It’s really a combination of momentum, kinetic energy, penetration, bullet design, the game, and most importantly, shot placement, that all culminate in an effective round in regards to stopping power.
The bullet’s momentum is a function of its velocity and its mass and since we have already looked at the two components of momentum, you should already have the idea that there will be some differences between these two cartridges (Graph 10).
From the graph, we see no overlap between the cartridges with each set of rounds grouping tightly together. From the muzzle out to 500 yards, we see the .308 Win rounds have higher momentum than the 7.62x39mm rounds with right around an average of 20lb/ft.s more momentum. And this result makes sense given that we saw the .308 Win rounds had higher velocities and heavier bullet weights which are the variables used to calculate momentum.
To make sure this result was not just due to the rounds that we selected, we calculated the momentum averages with a larger sample size and listed them in the table below.
Average Bullet Momentum (lb/ft.s)
With more rounds added, we see the same trend as previously and the differences in the averages actually increases slightly with a little over 20 lbs/ft.s of momentum favoring the .308 Winchester at each yard marker. From this comparison, we feel pretty confident in stating that the .308 Win is going to provide you with more bullet momentum than a 7.62x39mm factory load.
That is going to conclude the comparisons of these two cartridges from a ballistics and terminal performance standpoint. Before we get into the application section, there are a few more points of discussion that a lot of consumers on the market contemplate when choosing between two cartridges.
Oh, accuracy. The accuracy of a cartridge is one of the most asked questions that leads to very few concrete answers. The reason for this is there are so many variables that go into accuracy, most of all the user of the firearm.
When shooting multiple rounds in quick succession, the 7.62×39 will most likely show a little better accuracy in a lot of marksman’s hands because of the greater recoil of the .308 that pulls the rifle barrel off its mark. Of course, a great shooter might be able to negate this quite a bit with the .308 though that would be quite the feat. You also have to take into account the range that is feasible with these two cartridges.
As we have seen with the ballistics data, it’s going to be much more difficult and take a lot more calculations to hit bull’s eye with a rifle chambered for the 7.62×39 at any range over 200 yards. The 7.62×39 was just not designed to be a long range cartridge. The velocity, trajectory, supersonic flight range, and the ballistic coefficients are just not where they should be to be accurate at long distance shots. While the .308 is not the best long range cartridge, when compared to other cartridges, it’s ballistic properties make it much more suitable for these shots when compared to the 7.62×39. And the brief history of these two cartridges also point in this direction given the role the .308 has served in military and police circles for long range applications.
So when it comes to accuracy, we can be confident in saying that you have a much better chance of being accurate at 250+ yards with the .308. Within that range, it just depends on who is holding the rifle and how much experience they have. When it comes to shooting quick shots in succession, the light recoil of the 7.62×39 is going to make it easier to group more shots as long as it is within 100 yards.
Price & Availability
Without a doubt, most 7.62×39 ammunition is much cheaper than the .308 cartridges. Now, don’t take that to the bank just yet, while the 7.62×39 ammunition is much cheaper you have to take into account how these rounds are used. While a box of .308 cartridges might be more expensive, it’s usually going to last much longer than a box of 7.62×39, especially when used at the range or in shooting competitions. If you want to burn through ammo in a blaze of glory on the range, you’re probably going to end up spending as much on ammunition as you would if you have a hunting rifle chambered for .308 rounds. 7.62×39 ammo is often available in bulk orders of several hundred to a thousand rounds, and in some cases, even the bulk orders are priced similar or even cheaper than a box of 20 .308 rounds.
With that being said, if you take a look at the ten rounds we have selected, you will see that the prices are very similar per 20 rounds. That’s because we looked at this article from a hunting perspective given we were comparing the 7.62×39 to the .308. There are cheaper options for the 7.62×39 if you just want to fire in bulk, but these tactical and hunting rounds are going to be more expensive.
While there is a lot of ammunition options out there on the market, let’s take a look at the prices of the ten rounds we have been using in our comparison.
|Ammunition||Price (20 Rounds)|
|308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr||$22.89|
|308 Winchester Super-X 180gr||$21.99|
|308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr||$30.99|
|308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr||$31.79|
|308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr||$25.99|
|7.62x39 Federal Fusion Soft Point 123gr||$24.79|
|7.62x39 Hornady SST Steel Case 123gr||$47.25|
|7.62x39 TulAmmo FMJ 122gr||$24.49|
|7.62x39 Winchester Super-X 123gr||$27.49|
|7.62x39 Remington UMC Metal Case 123gr||N/A|
As you can see, the .308 is going for a significant amount more per round than the 7.62×39. Of course, there is always bulk ammunition which might save you some money and there is certainly ammunition of these cartridges that are much cheaper and also much more expensive than the ones we have listed here.
When talking about availability with the 7.62×39 vs .308, both cartridges are usually readily available at most major retail stores that carry ammunition. You will probably be more likely to find boxes of .308 than 7.62×39, but most stores will carry both and are readily stocked. There are a lot more options with the .308 regarding bullet weight and design than the 7.62×39. Of course, the internet has made it a lot easier to get your hands on the specific type of ammunition you are wanting.
You’ve got the specs, and you’ve got the ballistic performance and other characteristics of these cartridges. So now, we can get into what’s really important, and that is how those numbers translate to application of the two. As we move through this section, you can reference the average tables for the two cartridges below.
While the 7.62×39 Is typically thought of as a short-range tactical round, it does have applications in the hunting world as well. People knock on the accuracy of this cartridge, but at short ranges, within 100 yards, it’s as accurate as any cartridge when in competent hands. It’s got enough energy at these ranges to drop animals as large as deer without any worry of only wounding the animal. Its range is limited as the rounds bleed energy and bullet drop begins to be an issue with the round as you move out past 200 yards. The cartridge averages around 150 ft.lbs of energy than the 1,000ft.lb guideline that is used for whitetail and other game of that size. With good shot placement, that is still enough energy to bring down game of this size though much further and things can start to get dicey. The other downside to this cartridge when considering to use it for hunting purposes is the availability of rounds designed for hunting. A lot of 7.62×39 rounds are FMJ or something similar that will not give you the type of expansion needed for hunting purposes. There are certainly rounds available,
Where the 7.62×39 stands out is in range shooting, especially in short range competitions or other tactical situations. The low recoil makes it an excellent option for a cartridge that you won’t feel bad burning through. For range shooting beyond 100 to 200 yards, the round just doesn’t have the numbers to back it in this capacity. Drastic bullet drop at 300+ yards, low BC’s, and supersonic speeds that only average to around 530 yards is not the making of a reliable long range cartridge.
The 7.62×39 also makes an excellent cartridge for home defense. A semi-automatic tactical rifle chambered for this weapon is one of the best for protecting your home. Low recoil is a great characteristic as is the lower muzzle energy. This lower energy has more than enough stopping power at close range and also limits the amount of over-penetration that can be a dangerous situation.
The .308 is often described as a great short range, bush cartridge for whitetail and other larger game. The main reason for this is because the .308 is a short action cartridge which allows slightly easier maneuverability when compared to other hunting cartridges. Looking at all of the data within 300 yards, there isn’t anything that would make us refute this claim. It certainly has the stopping power for large North American Game within these ranges and clearly excels in stopping power when compared to the 7.62×39 cartridge needed for large game. It’s much more than just a short range or bush cartridge. You can easily use this to take shots at 300+ yards. With heavier bullets, you will have to compensate for elevation loss, but you can always improve this with going with a slightly lighter bullet or higher pressured round.
The .308 has excellent stopping power, and with some careful considerations on cartridge type, the .308 can take down just about any large game in the US and world at a variety of ranges. It’s velocity and penetration make it a great choice for larger game in North America and the world. When the .308 is compared to other centerfire cartridges, it might not look as sexy as some of them when it comes to long range shooting. The .308 clearly has the potential for long range applications and there are factory loads available with the type of performance needed for 700 to 1,000 yard shots. The .308 has a bit of a kick, especially when compared to the 7.62×39 and might be a bit much for users that don’t have much experience with firearms but anyone can adapt to it with some time at the range.
Before we wrap up this article, we like to take some time and pick out several rounds for each cartridge that we think will serve you well in certain shooting applications.
Top Hunting Round
For the .308 Win, we like the Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr. This is another excellent option for medium to larger game. The bullet energy is the highest of the selected .308 rounds with 1,300ft.lbs of energy at the 500-yard mark which is enough for even larger game at that range. With proper shot placement, this round still has the energy and the velocity to make a clean kill. Anything within that yard mark is no issue. For the .308 rounds, it has one of the best long-range trajectories where a 300-yard shot is no problem in the right hands, and 400 yards is even manageable.
For hunting, we like the 123gr Fusion SP round as our pick for the 7.62×39 rounds. Like all of the 7.62×39 rounds, you are not dealing with a lot of recoil, but the main reason we have selected it for hunting is the bullet energy. Even at 200 yards, it is still carrying 907ft.lbs of energy. It also has the flattest trajectory of all the 7.62×39 rounds we examined in this article. With its energy and trajectory, it is the only round we have looked at that we would feel comfortable making a 250-yard shot.
Top Range Round
For our top .308 Win range round we like the 168gr Hornady BTHP Match. This round is affordable which is an important consideration when you plan burning through quite a few out on the range. This round has a great BC for .308 rounds (.45), and when paired with the velocity and long-range trajectory, you have an excellent round for precision shooting.
For the 7.62×39 rounds, we don’t like any of them for long range shooting. For short range shooting and blowing through a couple of hundred rounds, we would go with the 122gr TulAmmo FMJ. This is mainly due its price for a hundred rounds. Its short range trajectory is fine. It’s not the flattest, but you can hit 200 and 300-yard targets and group shots quickly within 100 yards.
With just about any comparison of two cartridges, there are going to be situations where one cartridge excels over the other. As we stated earlier in this article, we are not here to deem one of these cartridges as superior to the other. What we want and hope we have provided is a basis for comparison of two popular cartridges available in the world.
While we have only looked at a couple of rounds for both cartridges, we think our selection gives you a better idea of the versatility and variety of available rounds and gives a good snapshot of the differences between the two.
While we can’t say one is greater than the other, we hope that you will be able to use this article and with your shooting situation, be able to determine which cartridge would work best for you.
Safe shooting and hunting.
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Huston is a hunting enthusiast who believes your success in the field is directly correlated to the amount of preparation at home. With a degree in Microbiology and several years of doctoral work manipulating bacterial genes, he attempts to merge the rational and unbiased thinking of scientific research with the passions of hunting and fishing. With two decades of chasing all manner of upland game, hooved mammals, strutting gobblers, and any small game that can fit in his Dutch oven, he hopes to offer new ideas and viewpoints on hunting and firearm concepts and traditions.